As­traZeneca’s big MYS­TIC tri­al ends a com­plete fail­ure as Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo flops on over­all sur­vival

Last year, As­traZeneca preached pa­tience af­ter ini­tial da­ta showed its check­point in­hibitor Imfinzi com­bined with their in-house CT­LA-4 drug failed to meet the pri­ma­ry end­point of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival in a piv­otal lung can­cer tri­al. On Fri­day, that faith proved in vain as the im­munother­a­py al­so failed to im­prove over­all sur­vival in the keen­ly watched MYS­TIC tri­al.

The tri­al test­ed Imfinzi both as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with an­oth­er check­point in­hibitor, treme­li­mum­ab, against chemother­a­py in treat­ment-naive pa­tients with stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC), a cru­cial are­na in the bat­tle for check­point drug dom­i­nance.

The phar­ma gi­ant $AZN con­ced­ed Fri­day morn­ing that the com­bi­na­tion — once con­sid­ered a cor­ner­stone of As­traZeneca’s check­point de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy — ac­tu­al­ly per­formed worse than Imfinzi alone for the over­all sur­vival end­point, with a haz­ard ra­tio of 0.76 for the so­lo drug com­pared to an ane­mic 0.85 for the two to­geth­er.

Sean Bo­hen

While As­traZeneca’s pipeline has of­ten come up short, there have been a string of ma­jor suc­cess­es in on­col­o­gy for the com­pa­ny. This tri­al was con­sid­ered crit­i­cal in putting the brakes on the blitz­ing gains Mer­ck $MRK and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb have made af­ter es­tab­lish­ing their lead in the lu­cra­tive front­line can­cer field. The study was al­so tout­ed by CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot as an in­di­ca­tor of the British drug­mak­er’s val­ue as an in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ty, when it spurned Pfiz­er’s $PFE $118 bil­lion takeover bid in 2014

In a state­ment on Fri­day, As­traZeneca al­so sug­gest­ed that al­though sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance for over­all sur­vival had not been met, the da­ta mer­it­ed fur­ther analy­sis in ex­plorato­ry sub­groups. That’s not like­ly go­ing to in­spire much en­thu­si­asm.

Brad Lon­car

In MYS­TIC, “CT­LA-4 tru­ly of­fered no ben­e­fit or sig­nal at all”, said Brad Lon­car, man­ag­er of the Lon­car Can­cer Im­munother­a­py ETF. “I would think hard about these re­sults if I was one of the com­pa­nies out there de­vel­op­ing me-too or me-bet­ter CT­LA-4s (of which there are many). Giv­en its tox­i­c­i­ty pro­file and now the emerg­ing com­bo ef­fi­ca­cy we are see­ing in some of these can­cers out­side of melanoma, its win­dow is look­ing quite nar­row.”

As­traZeneca’s shares were al­so un­der pres­sure again on the fail­ure. Its stock is down more than 3% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing. Shares fell sharply last year on the PFS miss, evap­o­rat­ing some $14 bil­lion off the com­pa­ny’s val­ue.

Since that ini­tial set­back on MYS­TIC, though, As­traZeneca scored a big win with its PA­CIF­IC tri­al for Imfinzi, win­ning a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket niche for it­self in stage III NSCLC. But the fail­ure here will sting, nev­er­the­less.

Chief med­ical of­fi­cer Sean Bo­hen spot­light­ed the suc­cess on the monother­a­py side, but con­ced­ed the key fail­ure:

We are en­cour­aged to see that Imfinzi monother­a­py ac­tiv­i­ty is in-line with that of the an­ti-PD-1 class in pre­vi­ous­ly-un­treat­ed pa­tients with Stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer; how­ev­er, we are dis­ap­point­ed that these re­sults missed sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance. We re­main con­fi­dent in Imfinzi as the cor­ner­stone of our IO pro­gramme and con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate its po­ten­tial in on­go­ing non-small cell lung can­cer tri­als, in­clud­ing Imfinzi and Imfinzi plus treme­li­mum­ab in com­bi­na­tion with chemother­a­py.


Im­age: Pas­cal So­ri­ot. AP IM­AGES

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”

UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.

This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.